Saturday January 5th was in the planning for almost a year. Last year the temperature was a frosty minus 32 so we cancelled the event not because of lack of hardiness, as northern kids are renowned for their toughness when it comes to the cold, but more because the birdhouse, where we do our banding, is too cramped accommodate 30 plus kids trying to warm up at the same time. After the disappointment of cancelling, our frustration turned to possibility as we contemplated alternatives to our limited space resources. Then it dawned on us that we could use the Hilliard Township Community Hall and a new era for the Christmas bird count for kids at the marsh was born.
The community hall is only about 3 km from the birdhouse which would mean shuttling kids and families back and forth from the hall to the marsh, but considering every challenge provides an opportunity, we came up with the idea of asking a local farmer Dennis Peddie of Cougar Farms about giving the kids a horse and wagon ride. And another big positive of using the hall was now we were able to include the whole family. In the past parents dropped their kids off and came back a couple of hours later, now because of the added space we were able to enjoy the day as a family event.
Everything worked like a charm. The horse-drawn wagon ride was amazing! The kids who were at community hall making suet and suet feeders, playing bird games and learning about the history of the Christmas bird count for kids mounted the wagon that returned with the group of kids doing a bird count walk and bird banding at the marsh. Along the wagon route, kids were able to continue their bird count between the two locations.
The highlight of the day for me was seeing the families together and watching the excitement of kids and families enjoying the beauty and marvel of birds. The day also crystallized for me the need we have for a marsh building that can accommodate the growing needs of our visiting families right on site. As the interest in the marsh grows so does the need for us to take care of all of our visitors.
The day was just so exciting to see and hear the excitement of everyone and the wagon ride was the cherry on top making this Christmas bird count for kids the best we have ever had.
I want to take a moment to first thank all of the families that brought their young birders out. It was great to see so many parents wanting their kids to come to the marsh and fostering the value in connecting their kids to nature. As well I would like to thank all of the volunteers and directors that helped to make everything run smoothly. It was also great to see the parents jump in to help out with the drilling of the suet logs. Another big thank you goes out to the Hilliardton Township Recreation Committee who made the community hall available.
I cannot say enough about how much fun I personally had seeing all the smiles and hearing so much laughter. For me it is so gratifying to see the same kids returning with their parents either to the bird count or other marsh events and, over time watching them reach the age that they are able to help out at events or to have finally reached the age where they safely hold and release birds all on their own. The marsh family is growing up together. Needless to say I am already looking forward to the next Christmas bird count for kids. But not too fast, we want to savour the age of the kids and let’s face it we aren't getting any younger ourselves! Hope to see everyone next year.